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Know Thyself….. Before You Join a Study Group, Look for a Job, or Change Careers
[by Cary J. Griffith] What possible relevance could a Delphic Oracle have to the current practice of law? Plenty. “Know thyself” was an inscription carved on the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi in the 6th Century B.C. But judging from some of today’s practical law school curricula, two millennia have done little to tarnish the timeless truth.

More and more law schools are offering first-year students a rare opportunity to learn more about themselves. Why? “Because the difference between the best lawyers, and leaders, and the rest of us is the extent of their self-knowledge and knowledge of others,” describes the orientation workbook entitled Professionalism Work-

enough so that it only has a 75% re-test reliability rate. “We also have people read their MBTI descriptions,” adds Davis. Based on their own self-perception and what they read, they can clarify their type. So in 17 years, have any first-year law students decided against participating? “Interestingly,” explains Davis, “of over 2,000 students who have gone through this workshop since 1988, only one has elected not to participate in the exercises and thereby reveal his type.” From the law schools with whom we spoke, most students are more than a little interested. In large part it’s because we are all curious about who we are, how we fit in the world, our strengths and weaknesses, and how we relate to others. But students are also interested in how they fit in the profession. Larry Richard, management consultant with Altman Weil and the author of Psychological Type and Job Satisfaction Among Practicing Lawyers in the United States (his Ph.D. dissertation), notes that one of the basic findings of his study was that “feelers are the most dissatisfied [with the practice of law], and perceivers are right up there with them.” But Richard is quick to point out that if you’re a feeler or perceiver, it in no way condemns you to a less-than-satisfying professional life. There are a variety of personality assessment tools available that do everything from measure skills to measuring needs and values. Most law schools offering this kind of

self assessment use the MBTI. What is the MBTI and How Does it Work? The MBTI is based upon Carl Jung’s notions of psychological types and was first developed by Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1979) and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs. After answering a number of questions (there are no right answers), the results are tabulated so that participants are given a four-letter code. The letter codes actually represent one of four opposite types: (1) extraversion/introversion, (2) sensate/intuitive, (3) thinking/feeling, and (4) judging/perceiving. “The various combinations of these preferences result in 16 personality types,” says Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., which owns the rights to the instrument. Types are denoted by four letters--for example, ENFP (Extraversion, Intuitive with Feeling and Perceiving)--to represent one’s tendencies on the four scales. Why Do Law Schools Offer Personality Assessment? For the last couple of years, Kevin Campana, Interim Dean of Students at William Mitchell College of Law, has born witness to a phenomenon often repeated throughout America’s law schools. Students in the top 10% of their graduating classes have certain expectations placed upon them. These students are expected to participate in oncampus interviews arranged for the regions’ most prestigious law firms. And if, as is often the case, they’re offered a job, they are expected to take it.

shop: Knowledge of Self and Others as a Catalyst to Competence. The workbook was authored by Leary Davis, Professor of Law at Campbell University School of Law. In fact, Campbell is one of a growing number of law schools that provide all first-year law students with a Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessment, and a three-hour seminar that explains the results of that assessment. Davis uses the workbook to help guide students through the nuances of self-assessment.
“We’ve used the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with first year law students for 17 years,” explains Davis. Campbell is somewhat unusual because the MBTI and follow-up three-hour seminar are required as part of first-year-student orientation. All the other law schools we interviewed offer it on an elective basis. “But you don’t want to make people reveal things about themselves they don’t want to,” cautions Davis. “So what we tell them is the results don’t go into their permanent file, and you can decide not to participate. We give them their results, but if they disagree with those results, then the instrument is wrong and they are right.” Davis explains to the students that a measuring instrument like the MBTI is complex


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“If you happen to be one of those people who get on the treadmill,” notes Campana, “accepting a job at a law firm is predictable.” But many of these top students don’t really know much about the day-to-day aspects of practicing law. “They don’t have a good idea of what law firm life is like,” explains Campana. “Or they may come to dislike a particular law firm and its values. This is the reality of it. It’s just one of the reasons there’s a large turnover of associates in the big firms.” The William Mitchell College of Law knows about this phenomenon because after one or two years in practice, many of these young lawyers return to the College’s career counseling office as alumni seeking placement assistance. They are dissatisfied with private practice and come back to school to get help finding more meaningful jobs. To address the problem, Campana and Dana Bartocci, Associate Director of Career Services, have taken a two-pronged approach. The first involves creating curricula that leverages experienced legal professionals who teach law students about the practical realities of law firm practice. The other is to assist law students with the mercurial process of getting to know themselves; who they are, and how they react to the world, their strengths, weaknesses, and perhaps most importantly, how those might be manifested in the legal workplace. “We started doing Myers Briggs assessments with students and alumni coming in to look for work,” says Bartocci. Much like the process at Campbell, the seminar involves taking the assessment and then sitting through a three-hour seminar that explains those results and places them in the context of the profession. For example, Bartocci can share statistics like “34% of female litigators are I” [have a preference toward introversion], and “almost half of all tax and estate attorneys are ISTs [display a preference toward introversion, sensate and thinking types].

Test Limitations While Richard identified prevalent MBTI types in different practice areas and Campbell and William Mitchell both highlight some of those findings in their orientations, the experts with whom we spoke warned against the use of MBTI types to select careers. “Anyone, regardless of their type, can be involved in a field,” comments Martha M. Peters, Director of the Academic Achievement Program for the University of Iowa Law School. Ms. Peters co-authored a book with her husband, Don C. Peters, Law Professor at the University of Florida Law School, tentatively entitled: Pa-

into. All of the experts with whom we spoke agreed; don’t take the MBTI until you can sit down with a knowledgeable professional who can explain your results. The professionals with whom we spoke agreed with the advice we found on one MBTI site (Personality Pathways): “Before taking our informal online personality test (aka Cognitive Style Inventory) to verify your Myers-Briggs personality type, know that the best way to understand your personality or psychological type is to take an official MBTI ( Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ) instrument from a professional who has met the standards necessary to be ‘qualified’ to administer the test.” Are There Other Self-Assessment Tools?

per Chasing Types: Individualizing Law Study with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (CAPT: Jan/Feb 2005).
Ms. Peters believes success is not related to personality type, and that all practice areas benefit from diversity. “The MBTI is a sophisticated instrument and can help law students and lawyers become aware of their own mental-processing tendencies and the ways that their thinking approaches will be different from those of some professors, students, clients, lawyers, and judges,” explains Ms. Peters. “The MBTI provides information that helps anyone know themselves better. People can read about their types and think, ‘in spite of my desire to be a lawyer or a particular type of lawyer, I shouldn’t, because my type is not highly represented in this career area,’ but that would be a travesty. Often it is those people whose types are least represented in an area that bring the most to it.”

While the MBTI is perhaps one of the best known and most widely disseminated assessments, there are plenty of others that offer variations on the overall theme of learning more about yourself and others. “For purposes of determining fits with the profession,” notes Leary Davis, “the CISS (Campbell Interests and Skills Survey, by David Campbell) is probably most helpful… We also often use the DiSC and FIRO-B to measure needs, Rokeach to talk about values systems, and the Change Style Indicator to measure attitudes toward change.” These tests all offer law school professors, counselors, and others a number of additional self-assessment tools. In the final analysis, psychology tools like the

How to Take Personality Inventory Tests? Curious about who you are and what it means, particularly with regard to how you make career-life decisions? Before rushing out to the Internet and finding an online version of the MBTI (or any of the other wellknown personality inventory assessments), make sure you know what you’re getting

MBTI can provide law students and lawyers with invaluable insight into how they study and work. They can help professionals navigate the rocky shoals of everything from law school study groups to firm politics to the courtroom. But the MBTI does not the lawyer make. Although you may express personal prefer-




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ences that appear to doom you as a litigator, desire and fire in the belly-two other aspects of knowing thyself-are two other characteristics that enable most of us to do just about anything.